Volume KPIs are detrimental to the PR profession, encourage transactional media relationships and undermine a marketers’ ability to measure their true impact.
These days, marketers need to add ‘mathematician’ to their job description. The focus on developing data-led strategies, optimising campaigns and reporting back on business impact with hard metrics mean marketers are plugging numbers into spreadsheets, calculating percentages and compiling platform analytics like a data scientist.
Yet, for too long, public relations, or more specifically media relations programs, have sat as a separate, touchy feely, enigmatic and intangible part of the marketing mix. Unmeasurable by anything but the most basic of metrics – clip count and circulation.
It’s worth pausing for a second and reflecting on how archaic a metric clip count really is: the count of how many media stories a brand is mentioned in, initiated or influenced by a PR team.
When I started my career as an issues and crisis management specialist over a decade ago, the thought of measuring our achievements by clip count would have been laughable. In fact, no story at all was often a win.
When I moved into a more traditional PR agency role at Keep Left, the majority of our campaigns were focussed on achieving as many pieces of coverage for our clients’ stories. Our approach is much more nuanced these days – more on that later – but the reliance on clip count as the most important and widely understood metric persists across many of our clients and the broader industry today.
With the terrible news of AAP’s closure, I believe it’s now more important than ever to be promoting quality journalism and meaningful relationships with media. Rather than an approach to PR focussed on hitting a volume KPI, we need to be pursuing respectful media relationships built on value for audiences and the objectives of our clients.
If I tapped one of my digital marketing colleagues on the shoulder and asked about the great work they’d been up to lately, they wouldn’t say, ‘I ran three link ads on Facebook, a sponsored story on Instagram and 30 display ads”. They’d talk about the impact of their work. The results of their campaigns driving engagement, traffic, or generating conversions that aligns with business objectives.
Why? Because marketers are looking for efficiencies. Analysing what works and what doesn’t and optimising campaigns to minimise wasted resources and dollars along the way.
So why is this not the philosophy when it comes to earned media? Why can’t we reframe our picture of success from the pure existence of a story – to it being the right story, reaching the right audience at the right time and driving real business objectives?
I’ve seen first-hand the impact that just one high-quality piece of coverage can achieve for a client. And how ineffective one hundred pieces of tier two coverage can be.
We recently secured a profile piece for one of our start-up clients in a tier one airline magazine which resulted in more investor engagement and support for the business than the 15 other pieces combined. Because it was a high-quality engaging story that included all our key messages, stood out on the page and most importantly targeted the right ‘captive’ audience.
For the last 5 years at Keep Left we’ve been evolving a more qualitative approach to assessing and reporting on the impact of media coverage. It involves having clarity on a single set of metrics that paint a picture of the ideal piece of coverage for each individual client and campaign.
Essentially it asks us to think about what a ‘home run’ looks like for your business and makes that the benchmark. The type of coverage which generates a round of high-fives. The perfect score out of 100. We call it the Impact Score.
While it’s still a simple, one number metric, it packs some punch.
The Impact Score factors in elements like publication tier, length, sentiment, key messages penetration, social media shares, brand mentions and dozens of other factors. And because it’s 2020, we’ve proudly evolved it into a cloud-based digital platform accessible anywhere to our clients, on any device, at any time.
This more qualitative and customised approach to measurement has enabled our clients to think beyond just volume, to a more value-driven mindset, that’s aligned to their business strategy.
Being a live digital platform, we don’t have to wait until the end of a quarter or end of a campaign to know if we’re hitting the mark. We can learn, adjust and optimise as we go. Again, you wouldn’t let a Facebook campaign run for three months without checking its performance.
Ultimately, if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. So, let’s start thinking about earned media reporting in a more sophisticated way – and weening ourselves off the belief that more equals better.